There’s an intense foreboding in Laurence Vannicelli’s horror film. As soon as Mother, May I? begins, we feel something’s not right. With just a handful of characters, the film is at once a psychological horror film as well as a ‘chamber drama’ of sorts, as it peels back the layers of the characters to such an extent that we are left wondering who these people are. There are two primary characters in Mother, May I?: Emmett and Anya. Through the interplay of the characters’ complex psychological makeup, Vannicelli, who also wrote this film, tries to make a point about relationships and how we never really heal from our childhood traumas. They shape us and then leave us with the illusion that we are in charge of our own lives. Both Emmett and Anya are open to the idea of facing their problems and overcoming them to be loving partners, but some problems are just beyond their capacity to solve. Emmett, the abandoned son, is an intriguing character and warrants a closer study. Played by Kyle Gallner, here’s an in-depth analysis of Emmett.
Kyle Gallner as Emmett
Emmett gets the news of his mother’s passing, and he plans a trip to his mother’s house in a secluded village with his fiancée Anya. Emmett’s mother was a dancer and artist who abandoned Emmett, and he grew up with his foster parents. He doesn’t feel a real sense of loss, though. It’s as if she was just a random stranger who left her house to Emmett in her will, and now he has the job of putting it up for sale. No one would want to make a baby on their recently deceased mother’s bed, but Emmett was strangely up for it. Anya noticed his callous approach to the whole situation but wasn’t too harsh on him, for she knew they were a couple that faced their issues methodically. Emmett is open to going deep into his ‘repressed’ emotions and facing his demons.
Anya wants to talk about the elephant in the room: Emmett’s repressed feelings about the fact that his mother died. The fact is that he cannot get the closure he so desperately wants. Emmett couldn’t bring himself to face the fact that he wanted such a connection with his mother, given that she abandoned him. He remembers nothing about his childhood, but an old video tape of him with his mother and a morbid syringe in an old first aid box bring back some strange memories. Emmett’s mother was not a cruel person, but looking at Emmett and his deep-seated issues with connecting to other people, it looks like his mother did a poor job in the parenting department. Anya and Emmett’s routine of dealing with things is very mature, or so it looks.
When Anya sees Emmett getting flustered by his feelings, she calls for a ‘reverse chair.’ Although it sounds like a new love-making position, it was actually their way of communicating and resolving the issues surrounding their relationship at any given point in time. Emmett, even though he labeled himself an ‘avoidant'(someone who rarely confronts his true feelings), was willing to go through the charade of the reverse chair, even though neither one of them were actual psychoanalysts. Anya would ask him a question, and Emmett would answer her, and then they would reverse their roles, and Anya would answer as Emmett, clearing the air as to what she thinks is really going on with him.
Emmett fumes when Anya reveals her real thoughts that he wants to have a child with her just because he never had a real childhood of his own. From here, a chain of events begins that just rips apart their relationship. Not because they start to fight all the time and the relationship deteriorates, but because Emmett’s mother seems to return to take a hold of Anya. Blame it on the mushrooms that they had on their first night in the house; something truly bizarre happens. Emmett, no matter how open he seems to changing himself, gets to his limit pretty quickly when Anya starts to act like his mother. Emmett calls up a friend for advice after seeing Anya’s behavior. Of course, nobody could help him, as he was helpless against Anya. He thought this was some twisted psychological technique on her part that she was using to get him to confront his past. It wasn’t, but how could Emmett have been sure? Anya couldn’t swim, but now she swam like she had been swimming for decades. Her accent and mannerisms changed, and she started to behave exactly like Emmett’s mother. Three days of having his ‘mother’ around really changed him. He danced with her, grew fond of her cooking, and it was like he had his childhood back. One part of him was profoundly disturbed that Anya would go to such lengths to make him confront his traumas, and the other part was reliving his lost childhood. So should he be livid with her or be grateful? He is both. Actually, the ‘performance’ by Anya is so convincing to his mind that when she becomes unpossessed, or, shall I say, returns to her normal self, and tries to kiss Emmett, he is startled.
Had Emmett’s mother really returned and possessed Anya? Mother, May I? makes it quite clear that she had. There is a clear reason for her return: she died all alone, without really getting the chance to offer any kind of explanation to her only child. Emmett later found out that he wasn’t technically abandoned by his mother, but that he had been forcefully taken away from her after he ended up in a hospital, drugged and bruised. The authorities must have seen it as a case of negligent parenting and deemed her unfit to raise Emmett. The really strange part is that Emmett craves his mother so much that when Anya was possessed and used the old syringe to drug him, he returned again to ask for more. Emmett’s mother was a dancer, and being a mother was probably not her first priority. Emmett was not an easy kid to raise, as testified by his old neighbor Bill. So she must have given him that sedative and made him sleep, which protected him on some level from getting hurt physically but scarred him mentally. The mother’s love and care were reduced to the routine of injecting the sedative. Emmett knows nothing else apart from this. If the needle pain is what it all boils down to, so be it. Emmett will take it.
When the mother’s spirit leaves Anya, Emmett is distraught. It’s as if he had lost his childhood again. Emmett’s rage grew against Anya because of her not being his mother anymore. The childish tantrum translates into this: – Why did she have to start the charade at all if she was going to snap out of it?! He tried to inflict maximum pain on Anya by mocking her career as a poet and harshly revealing her inability to see her own issues that she has with her psychoanalyst mother, which has driven her to concoct the charade of reverse chair and pretend to be somebody she is not. Ultimately, it appeared as if he torched her journal, which contained two years of her work. The next day, everything seemed okay because she had complied with his demand for sedation. He was better the next day, which just goes to show that it was his subconscious desire to make Anya behave like her mother again, and when she did (by sedating him), he returned her journal as well. He hadn’t actually burned it.
Emmett’s psyche was split. Was this truly her mother? Or Anya? There was only one way to know. Emmett pushed Anya off the boat after he had convinced her to spend the day together before they left the village, just to see whether she could swim. If she could, that would mean his mother was with him, and so was his childhood. Anya almost drowned, and seen objectively, Emmett had just attempted to murder Anya, but she didn’t leave him. Emmett, in the end, clearly communicated to Anya, knowing fully well that she was definitely herself and not his mother and that what he truly needs is his mother. Now it was up to Anya to stay with him and fulfill his wish or not. Emmett was like a helpless child in the end, at the mercy of his lover, who also happened to be his mother.
All the psychological tools were no match for the truth. Will he ever be able to grow out of this ugly attachment to his mother? Maybe not. Will this relationship survive? I don’t know, but it would be a travesty if it did. The foreboding will not go away, and the spirit of the mother will simply absolve itself of the guilt of not having been a good mother to Emmett. With the spirit always maneuvering the relationship, he was not a free agent here, and neither was Anya, which means it would be bad for Emmett to be a fiend for the sedative. He will have to realize that it was just a placeholder for real love and care, which he never got from his mother. The only cure could be his own baby. If Anya was pregnant and he could start his own family, then perhaps the joy and responsibility of being a father would put him on his authentic path. Chances are slim for Emmett, but he was a wild child once; maybe he will channel it just once and break free?